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UCF Football: 2022 Knights Season Preview and Prediction

Ryan O'Keefe, UCF Knights Football

Ryan O'Keefe and the Knights are ranked No. 45 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

After a 9-4 finish in coach Gus Malzahn's debut in 2021, UCF is aiming higher this fall. Cincinnati and Houston are considered the frontrunners in the American Athletic Conference for '22, but the Knights have potential to join that duo at the top if one of the quarterbacks - Mikey Keene or John Rhys Plumlee - emerges as a clear answer under center. UCF doesn't lack for weapons to support whichever player wins the battle under center. Also, a defense that limited teams to 24.5 points a game brings back seven starters. 

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing UCF's Offense for 2022

After an injury to incumbent Dillon Gabriel last season, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn turned to true freshman Mikey Keene. He performed admirably, completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,730 yards, 17 TDs and six interceptions in guiding the Knights to a 7–3 record in their final 10 games, including a Gasparilla Bowl win against Florida. While Keene has the edge to retain the starting role, he will be pushed by John Rhys Plumlee, an Ole Miss transfer who is more of a running threat.

UCF boasts depth at running back, led by returning senior Isaiah Bowser, who carried the ball 159 times for 703 yards last season. Durability is a concern, although the big and bruising back is a game-changer when he's healthy. He'll be complemented by Johnny Richardson, who led the team with 733 rushing yards.

The speedy Ryan O'Keefe is a big-time offensive weapon capable of making plays in a variety of ways. He led the Knights with 84 receptions for 812 yards and seven TDs. The receivers are bolstered by senior Amari Johnson and Kobe Hudson, an incoming Auburn transfer who led the Tigers with 44 catches for 580 yards last season.

Kemore Gamble, a transfer from Florida, gives UCF a receiving threat at tight end. He was UF's third-leading receiver last season, catching 31 passes for 414 yards.

The line has lots of experience with returning starters Samuel Jackson, Matthew Lee and Lokahi Pauole. Transfer Ryan Swoboda was a multi-year starter at Virginia.

Previewing UCF's Defense for 2022

The unit took a big step in its first season under coordinator Travis Williams, improving its total defense numbers by 70 spots compared to the year before.

The strength is in the secondary. That group includes cornerbacks Davonte Brown (team-high 13 PBUs) and Corey Thornton (32 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, six PBUs) as well as safety Quadric Bullard (83 tackles, four TFLs, six PBUs). A name to watch at safety is transfer Koby Perry, an FCS All-American at Austin Peay.

There is experience on the edge with Tre'mon Morris-Brash (10 TFLs, 5.0 sacks) and Josh Celiscar (7.5 TFLs and 3.0 sacks). The interior is headlined by Ricky Barber, who has the ability to be among the best in the conference. A newcomer to watch is Lee Hunter, a former four-star recruit and Auburn transfer.

Linebacker is the biggest question. UCF turned to the transfer portal for help, bringing in Jason Johnson, who was an FCS All-American at Eastern Illinois.

Related: American Athletic Conference Predictions for 2022

Previewing UCF's Specialists for 2022

Kicker Daniel Obarski finished strong, kicking three field goals in the bowl win against Florida to improve his season output to 8-of-14. Alex Ward was among the finalists for the Patrick Mannelly Award, given annually to the top long snapper in the country.

Final Analysis

Malzahn overcame a rash of injuries to put together a solid 9–4 season in his UCF debut. With 14 returning starters and a host of plug-and-play transfer additions, there is strong optimism that the Knights can leap back into conference championship contention.

National Ranking: 45

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